So far this season, the Tigers are a mediocre 19-19 on their home turf. Considering the past, .500 is significantly below average. Since 2009, Detroit is a gaudy 254-151 at home, but that trend is shifting. On the road this year, the Tigers' 22-13 record is the second best in baseball only to the Milwaukee Brewers (27-15). The Oakland Athletics (23-15) are also in the conversation.
Speaking on a conference call Tuesday, Cal Ripken Jr. of Turner Sports was asked about the dynamic of home versus road play as a former player. What, exactly, helps make a team and clubhouse flourish away from the home fans?
"It becomes a confidence thing, and then people come up with the expression that you're 'road warriors,'" Ripken said. Oftentimes, all it takes is one string of wins on the road to get a team hot, and then, the victories start to pile up in bunches without explanation.
"Sometimes, when you play well on the road, you're scoring first. Many times, in playoff baseball (the home team) starts to get pressured (in such a scenario)," Ripken said. "So I look at do they score first? Do they have a lead? And then I look at confidence."
This past weekend in Cleveland, the Tigers personified Ripken's claims. They scored first in every game, which provided the team with some much overdue confidence. Then, they rode those early leads to more runs, and eventually, wins. That happened again Tuesday night against the Texas Rangers in an 8-2 win.
The series before, the Kansas City Royals had turned the exact same trick on Detroit, jumping out to quick leads in every game and making the home fans groan in the process, leading to some notable frustration in the home dugout.
Pressure, as Ripken said, could explain plenty from Detroit's perspective. After falling short of World Series aspirations in 2012 and 2013, fans are hungering—perhaps expecting—a title winner in 2014. They seem to hang on every pitch at Comerica Park this season, expecting runs, dominating pitching and victories on a nightly basis. When it doesn't happen, frustration sets in, and that can carry over on the field, leading players to press, especially in big spots late in games.
On the road, Detroit is free from any such constraints, and can calmly play their own game away from the ebb and flow of their jumpy crowd at Comerica, which has become downright salty lately, booing several Tigers' stars in the wake of their miserable performances on the home diamond.
Perhaps this year, the Tigers just feel more comfort digging into the batters box or taking the mound on the road. There, they feel no such stress to perform well, look superhuman and win consistently, and thus, the ability to quit thinking, relax, play and win becomes much easier.
As Ripken said, having the last at-bat is nice, but it's not always the advantage it's cracked up to be, especially if the pressure to come back should intensify throughout a home game. That's certainly proven to be the case for Detroit, which has only three notable late inning comeback wins to their credit at home this season, a departure from the "rally cat" norm which has gone along with the fantastic home records of the past five seasons.
In a year that will be full of parallels related to the 1984 squad considering the 20 year anniversary beckons, the most useful one is this: that team also became comfortable away from Detroit, going 51-29 on the road.
Assuming the 2014 Tigers are able to play above .500 at home the rest of the way like they have in the last few years, the early confidence gained from gutting out road wins could prove to be massive later in the year.
Max DeMara is the editor of @tigers_101. Follow the site there on Twitter, or like it on Facebook to connect with him.
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